The reason that graphic designer Jihee Lee first left South Korea was a simple one. After some years working at the design studio of her dreams, the idea of learning more about typography drew her to a prestigious type course at Germany’s University of Art and Design Halle. Years passed, and as graduation day drew nearer, Lee found herself circling around a central question that many foreign students eventually face: Should I leave or should I stay?
It’s this decision process that inspired Lee’s theses project, a web platform featuring interviews with female creatives from South Korea about why they chose to emigrate. Naturally, it’s entitled Should I Leave or Should I Stay?
“Non-European students are given 18 months of residence after graduation,” explains Lee. “If they can’t find a job within that time or make it as a freelancer, they have to return to their own country. As graduation came closer, I was in a situation where I have to prepare for my future. For me, I always knew I wanted to stay in Germany. But why? I decided to talk to my contemporaries to find out.”
The website features seven interviews with Korean women that have set up creative careers in Los Angeles, The Hague, Leipzig, Tokyo, Berlin, and Strasbourg, including graphic designer Shrimp Chung, type designer Min Joo Ham, and illustrator Joo Young Kim. The dual-language platform includes a page of facts, where a series of pie charts rendered in striking black and green communicate the sheer amount of male graphic designers partaking in various Korean exhibitions and institutions in comparison to female contemporaries.
“I wanted to share the issue of gender discrimination in the Korean design scene with an English speaking audience,” says Lee. “And I hope this platform will increase the visibility of Korean female visual artists, and inspire mutual support not only amongst Korean women designers but also the community of women designers of color more broadly.”
The website’s own design also platforms the work of female designers from Korea: typefaces Impact Nieuw 2012 and Dunkel Sans, which are used on the website’s homepage and for quotes, are designed by Jung Myung Lee and Min Joo Ham, who now work in Amsterdam and Berlin. Hand-drawn arrows rendered with a thick pen punctuate the otherwise starkly typographic design, and suggests a sense of movement analogous to the theme of relocation. The interviews themselves are honest and informative, touching on issues of self-financing and visa woes in a way not often covered by the creative press. In some regards, its transparency is reminiscent to O-1 magazine, which dealt with the visa graduating creatives often apply to in the U.S.
Throughout her time as a student, Lee has dedicated herself to encouraging and inspiring solidarity through graphic design. Last year, we wrote about her platform Iamangry.de, which allows people with Asian heritage to share their experiences with micro-aggression. “It’s important for female designers to get together and platform one another,” she says. “There is a network called Feminist Designer Social Club in South Korea that bands feminist graphic designers together, which I’ve been watching and cheering from afar. Through events like these, female designers can band together and discover they have an impact and network.”